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Raising Hell on the Rock 'n' Roll Highway Hardcover – February 1, 2009
The errant conscience of his camera has captured both the flippancy and the passion of the times. Pete Townshend
About the Author
Tom Wright has been rock 'n' roll's best kept secret since 1962 when he got Pete Townshend high and introduced him to American Blues. He lives in the USA.Susan Vanhecke is the author of Race with the Devil: Gene Vincent's Life in the Fast Lane and co author of Three Steps to Heaven: The Eddie Cochran Story. She lives in the USA.
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Tom, congratulations! Who fans always knew your photography was somehow magical and it is a delight to see it presented properly. But your written story equals your camera's eye. I don't know about raising hell, but I think you also described a bit of paradise as well.
Pete Townshend writes in the Times:
Reminiscin' 'bout my generation
Tom Wright. Good man. I've always been susceptible to a good man.
My first was Graham Beard, my best friend (though I was perhaps not his best) from the age of 4 until about 11, when we went to watch Bill Haley play and I picked up a guitar. Then I was befriended by an assortment of fellows, from among whom John Entwistle rose as the most constant until I was 17. Then at Ealing Art School in the spring of 1962 I met Richard Barnes (later an important Who biographer) and we laughed our way into a longstanding friendship so intense that it's not surprising it has quieted in recent years. Barney and I soon met Tom and ended up in a flat in the same house he shared with his friend Cam.
Almost as soon as I found Tom, or he found me, I felt I lost him. Tom and Cam were effectively deported from the UK for possession of the marijuana that had, along with perfectly faded Levi's and the wonderful collection of R&B records they shared, made them both stars among the prettiest females and the coolest males at the college, where Tom studied photography. I read Tom's story and find that he numbers me among the coolest males in 1962. Indeed, I appear to be the coolest in some ways, but I was not cool. I was just susceptible.
Within a few days of hearing Lightning Hopkins mawling out his tortured, primitive version of Trouble in Mind I had worked out how to play my own version of it. When Tom heard me play it, he adopted me. Hanging with Tom, as his in-house troubadour, always had a drop-dead moment hanging portentously in the air: the instant that he decided to crash into bed to embrace whichever beautiful girl was in his orbit. It would be a few years on before I was able to turn my own best assets into an equally intoxicating bird call.
Music is magical. When they were deported, Tom and Cam had to leave their records behind with Barney and me ... as well as their beds. The musical kudos exerted by Tom and Cam was suddenly passed to us. Not necessarily with quite the same romantic association, but we could unleash memories. Tom says that he also left behind a stash of grass. That must have increased our pull, but it also confused my fellows in the Detours, the school band I still played with because it earned so much money. I think I became a little difficult in the months I first began to get stoned. I was hearing music in a new way. The Detours were pretty good, and when I started to introduce some R&B songs into the set during late 1963 the surprise for us all was that the audience of Mods who were starting to embed themselves in the local area where we most often performed were fairly in sync with us.
Indeed, as I taught John Entwistle Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs, the Rolling Stones were playing their first few shows at the local Ealing Club, casting the first serious glove down to the Beatles, who were already beginning to seem like aliens they were so successful. By the time Tom and Cam's R&B music collection had been filtered into the Ealing scene, they had been forced to leave the country and watch from afar as the British music revolution took place with R&B as its new backbone.
It was not until several years later that Tom and I reconnected. He worked on the road with The Who in 1967 and took some of the most flattering photographs of the band ever. I quickly realised that Tom had a problem. He liked taking pictures and developing the negatives, but he wasn't crazy about making prints. He wasn't even keen on opening the various trunks in which they were haphazardly stored. So the stash of unseen images grew. Some took 30 years to get printed, some even longer.
But whenever any of his friends saw his pictures, we knew he had an extraordinary gift to capture the moment: he seemed to sense the gentle approaching warp in time that predicted that something special would happen. Tom lived so much in the moment, waiting for the moment, that some of us felt that he would never properly catalogue and archive his work, let alone find time to tell his incredible life story.
His recent successful but substantial heart surgery provided the hiatus, the shock, and finally the focus to write a moving, touching and funny book that illustrates more about the change in the function of pop music from the late Fifties to the early Sixties than any semi-academic treatise written by journalist or critic.
It's clear now that R&B was vital to the shift in function of postwar pop. From dance music designed as a romantic salve for the walking wounded of various wars, we moved to the irritant teenaged codes of Sixties pop. This new music was partly aimed at that same scarred older generation and suggested that their postwar trauma, horror and shame - hitherto denied and untreated - had somehow echoed down to us. R&B, mainly performed by American black musicians and including some powerfully rhythmic jazz and the most edgy folk music of the time, was what underpinned British pop music of the Sixties new wave.
The combination of complaint, confrontation and self-healing that was wrapped up in the average R&B song - usually sung by a disgruntled but sanguine older black American - was the right model for my white middle and working-class British generation too. It changed for the next 40 years the purpose and function of pop music.
Tom has placed himself inside his own story, and that was necessary. This is also very much my story. There is much of my life that Tom describes that will not appear in my memoirs simply because I don't remember it. Some of his tales started me laughing, some made me sad. The photographs are all wonderful, providing the context and tangential colour that makes Tom's story seem as particular, real and romantic as it must have felt to him as he experienced it.
One thing is certain: had I not met Tom Wright, The Who would never have become successful. We would have remained the Detours, a solid little pop band doing what hundreds of others were doing at the same time: playing local clubs, pubs, weddings and parties purely for pleasure and fitting the programme in and around our day jobs. After a few years I would have stopped playing with them and gone off to work as a sculptor or for an ad agency. I needed the nudge of marijuana to help me to realise that I had real creative musical vision. I needed to hear Jimmy Reed to know that powerful music could be made with extremely basic tools. I needed to be given the recognition that I got from Tom of my special talent, recognition that Roger Daltrey, the leader of our band, could not give me at first because he had known me and nurtured me before I grew into my real skin.
It's wonderful to be able to say that today I am susceptible to Roger Daltrey. But the memory of meeting Tom in 1962, and being specially blessed by him when he was at his teenage peak, is the most significant moment of my musical life. Roger often puts the success of The Who down to his efforts of getting me out of bed, where I lay stoned listening to Jimmy Reed, to go and play a local pub with the Detours. I'm afraid, as is often the case in Who history, Roger and I must differ. I put our success down to the fellow who left that particular bed behind when he was deported.